By Lauren Fox
It may be the 37th time the House of Representatives has voted to repeal or dismantle President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, but for the more than 30 Republican freshmen who told constituents while campaigning in 2012 they'd defund "Obamacare" and tear it to pieces, Thursday is their first shot to make good on a promise.
"It is a huge vote. We ran to repeal Obamacare. It sends a great statement back to our district to back up what we ran on," says Ted Yoho, R-Fla., a veterinarian who beat 12-term GOP congressman Cliff Stearns with a fraction of the finances and a promise to stop the Affordable Care Act and reduce the country's ballooning deficit.
"It also sends a great statement to the administration that in America, we don't want this," Yoho says. "People in my district absolutely don't want it. It is the Number One job killing bill in America bar none."
Out on the central Florida campaign trail, Yoho says taking down the health care law became a fan favorite. In Yoho's headline-grabbing ad featuring career politicians down on all fours, eating out of troughs and slinging mud alongside pigs, repealing Obamacare was his first promise.
And now that he is elected, Yoho says it's still the issue that keeps the phones ringing off the hook.
"If that is the best legislation in Congress, I would just prefer [we] stay home," Yoho says.
And he's not alone.
Republican freshmen pestered leadership for the vote Thursday even though it's not going anywhere past the House chamber.
"One of the challenges is when members come back to Washington over the course of multiple cycles and multiple years, you kind of get absorbed in this Washington, D.C., culture," freshman Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., says. "The freshmen are coming in fresh."
Even in Montana, where the Big Sky State's own six-term Democratic Sen. Max Baucus served as one of the main architects of health care, Daines says his promise to undo it was a powerful campaign tool.
"I think Montanans realize a ... big government solution coming out of the Beltway is usually not a good solution," Daines says, adding that in a recent survey he sent to 90,000 constituents, results are flooding back to the office showing that three out of four Montanans are opposed. He also points out that Baucus has since come out and called the implementation of the bill a "trainwreck."
"Max was articulating what many Montanans believed," Daines says. "They don't see how this process will work."
Confusion surrounding health care is vast. A recent Kaiser Health Foundation poll showed that 42 percent of Americans were unsure whether the bill is still the law of the land.
And the confusion is what GOP lawmakers are hoping to seize upon in 2014.
"The Democratic Party is going to take on a lot of water in the next election," says Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz. "We will have some tremendous gains in the House, and I think we will pick up some Senate seats as well."
Salmon knows a thing or two about how health care plays on the campaign trail. While he is considered a freshman, this isn't his first time on Capitol Hill. The congressman was elected in 1994 during Newt Gingrich's Republican Revolution and he served three terms before bowing out as he had promised to do. Ironically, Salmon says it was Hillary Clinton's failed attempt at universal health care and the ghost of the assault weapons ban that landed him his first gig as a congressman.
"It was very devastating to the Democrats in that election, but I don't think it was even a fraction of how devastating it is going to be when people see [health care] start to unfold," Salmon says.
But on the campaign trail, Democrats are ready to fight back. If Republicans want to cast the Affordable Care Act as a drain on businesses and a job killer, Democrats are ready to cast Republicans as insensitive and in the pockets of big insurance companies.
"Republicans claim to speak for the people, but the people spoke in the last election," Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Jesse Ferguson said. "Republicans will vote to put insurance companies back in charge of health care, raising prescription drug costs, denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, and even driving people back into bankruptcy because of health care costs. Instead of solving our health care problem, Republicans would rather play games and try to score points."
And on Capitol Hill, Democrats are groaning at House leadership for wasting time. Without the Senate's pledge to re-examine health care and with Obama still in office, the votes is nothing more than symbolic and a campaign ploy to put vulnerable Democrats on the spot, they say.
Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told U.S. News as he walked out of the Capitol Wednesday evening that the House had blown countless hours and taxpayer dollars fighting for something that was dead on arrival in the Senate when automatic budget cuts are leading to furloughs and cuts to Headstart.
"It is a political vote, it's a campaign vote, it's a posturing vote, but we have a lot of substance to do and we are not doing anything on substance," Hoyer says. "Very frankly, this has been the least substantive Congress for which I have served."
But whether or not anything is going to come of the Obamacare repeal vote Thursday, freshmen members say their first repeal vote won't be their last.
"I think persistence is something that eventually provides a good outcome," Salmon says. "Ultimately the American people by a vast majority are not comfortable with where Obamaca